Major coalition lays out how Wisconsin lawmakers can run elections with fairness, ease and accessibility

    Poll workers on election day (Photo: City of Madison Clerk's Office)
    Poll workers on election day (Photo: City of Madison Clerk's Office)

    The cluttered letterhead at the top of a March 18 letter sent to Gov. Tony Evers, legislative leaders and Wisconsin Elections Commission Chair Dean Knudson includes 10 major good-government advocacy groups that banded together to lay out steps they say would make the April 7 elections fair and keep the public — particularly the most vulnerable — healthy.

    The coalition is made up of local and national groups: Wisconsin African American Roundtable, All Voting is Local, American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, Campaign Legal Center, Fair Elections Center, Wisconsin League of Women Voters, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Wisconsin Conservation Voices and Wisconsin Voices.

    The letterhead of the 10 advocacy groups that signed a letter to Wisconsin leaders laying out steps to fair and safe elections for April 7, 2020.

    After a brief thank you for the officials’ work on COVID-19 public protection, it began: 

    “We recognize the grave circumstances facing our state, and fully appreciate the work state and local officials have undertaken to protect the public from this pandemic. As state officials respond to protect the health and safety of Wisconsin residents, they must also preserve our democratic systems.

    “We propose a number of steps we strongly urge Wisconsin officials to consider so that the election on April 7, 2020 occurs without undue risk to public health — or the disenfranchisement of any eligible Wisconsinite, including particularly those voters who have long faced barriers to the ballot, including African Americans, low-income voters, voters with disabilities and students.”

    To meet those goals, the groups laid out a series of steps they asked lawmakers to take: 

    • All voters should be mailed absentee ballots and provided with a list of options to cast their completed ballots.
    • Extend the deadline for online registration to Thursday, April 2nd.
    • Allow mail registration forms to be returned to clerks by email as well as mail, and extend the deadline for emailed forms to Thursday, April 2.
    • Permit municipalities to begin counting absentee ballots as they come in.
    • Extend the absentee ballot request deadline to 3 p.m. on Election Day.
    • Allow any voter or their designated agent to drop off their absentee ballot at any polling location within their municipality.
    • Waive the requirement to have a witness sign an absentee ballot
    • Ensure that absentee voters are given an opportunity to correct inadvertent mistakes or omissions on their absentee ballot
    • Allow electronic/digital student IDs to be used for requesting an absentee ballot.
    • Treat voters who are requesting to be mailed an absentee ballot due to COVID-19 as “indefinitely confined” and eligible to be mailed a ballot every election.
    • Commit to keeping MyVote and the contingency website, Get To The Polls, updated in real time (or within 3 hours) with any polling place changes.

    This letter follows on a letter sent earlier in the week by more than 200 civil rights organizations asking federal and state officials nationwide “to adopt and fund measures to ensure the orderly administration of the 2020 primary and general elections.”

    Shauntay Nelson, the Wisconsin state director of All Voting is Local, brought together the groups. 

    “Especially in a time when our country is in crisis, we need our democracy to function,” says Nelson. “Election officials and legislative leaders must act now to ensure every voter can access the ballot while also protecting public health.”

     

    Melanie Conklin
    Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.